Consolidated, lined, cleaned, filled, inpainted,
On arrival: Uneven surface, discolored varnish, several breaks in canvas.
Unknown artist, American, 19th Century, oil on canvas Private client
This painting of a very elegant woman with an anatomically unlikely left arm arrived in battered condition. The canvas support, which was torn along the tacking edge was dry, weak and totally missing in some areas. The reverse side had six thick canvas patches held in place by a very hard and strong glue which had deformed the painting as it expanded and contracted around them with changes in temperature and humidity. In addition, there were two breaks in the upper right part of the canvas and a long tear in the lower left. Stretcher bar marks were visible and the several layers of varnish had darkened and yellowed from the effects of ultra violet light.
The first step in the restoration was to apply a mulberry paper tissue to stabilize the paint film and prevent further damage while removing the painting from its stretcher. The painting was then placed face down and the patches were slowly and carefully removed from the back of the canvas using a softening agent and scalpels. After that it was flattened on blotters with moisture and weights, and the breaks and tears were correctly aligned and held in place by delicate mulberry tissue bridges.
A second linen canvas, larger than the painting, was stretched, soaked and restretched to remove all possibility of further expansion. It was then placed face down and painted with conservation wax as was the flattened painting. After that, the two were laminated together on a vacuum hot table. The heat of the table melted the wax and the pressure of the vacuum fused them together along with the use of rollers to force out all air bubbles and excess wax as well as to strengthen the bond between the two surfaces.
When the canvas and its new support had cooled, the grime and discolored varnish were removed with aqueous surfactant detergents and solvents as required. The paint losses were filled with a mixture of whiting and rabbitskin glue and screeded to level with the surface. After a separating coat of acryloid B-67 varnish was applied, inpainting of the fillings was executed using pure ground pigments in a medium of B-67 and xylene. This kind of paint does not change color when it dries as oil paint does so if the color is matched precisely, it remains that way. Inpainting is done dot by dot with a small sable brush wearing a head loupe with seven power magnification and working under 500 watt lights to ensure perfect matching of color.
When the inpainting was complete, the canvas received another coat of B-67 and a final surface of paraloid B-72. Since neither this paint nor the varnishes are affected by ultra violet light, the restoration of this painting will last for a long time.